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Cinema/TV, Dracula, Film Notes

Your Daily Dracula – Greg Hill as Vlad Manfred Castaneda, Bit (2019)

Your Daily Dracula – Greg Hill as Vlad Manfred Castaneda, Bit (2019)

This peppy, inventive LGBTQ-themed vampire movie owes a little to We Own the Night in its vision of vampire gender politics, but also has fresh ideas to bring to the table and a whole raft of new pricks to kick against.  Admitably, it casts transgender actor Nicole Maines (from the Supergirl TV series) as a trans lead character in a movie where gender transition isn’t the main focus of the story — indeed the protagonist’s real issues begin as she turns into something else again.

Writer-director Brad Michael Elmore, following up his werewolf movie The Wolfman’s Hammer, clearly stretches a low budget a long way – a ‘70s/’80s flashback montage scored with Boney M’s ‘Ra Ra Rasputin’ is hilariously minimalist, yet packed full of memorable moments.  Laurel (Maines), on a post-high school gap year, leaves her small Oregon town for Los Angeles and crashes on the couch of her tolerant yet wary brother Mark (James Paxton).  On her first night in the city, she falls in with a girl crew and gets bitten by Izzy (Zolee Griggs) then dropped in a dumpster.  Pack alpha Duke (Diana Hopper, from Goliath), who decides ‘the rules of Bite Club’, gives Laurel a chance to turn vampire, blithely accepting that this doesn’t go against her policy of not turning guys into immortal undead.  Duke spent a few decades under the glamour of her own macho Master Vlad Manfred Castaneda (Greg Hill) – unpack that name, psychedelic goths – and now eats slivers of his heart while running her crew.  It becomes apparent that while Duke decrees men can’t handle being a vampire without becoming power junkies she isn’t herself immune to the darker side of the dark road she’s taken.  There’s a quiet chill to Duke’s footnote to her Promising Young Woman style vigilante predation on obnoxious guys (‘let men be the ones who are afraid to jog at night for a change’) that she manages a ratio of about eighty to twenty percent of guilty to innocent victims and that she’s as addicted to getting her own way as the Dracula stand-in was.

This sticks to the pattern of The Lost Boys or Near Dark – even Heathers – in showing the freedoms (like flying) and cynical pleasures of joining a vampire clique, but is also well aware of the cost of giving in to predatory selfishness.  Late in the day, Mark gives his sister a telling-off that indicates she was fairly life-sucking to be around even before she grew fangs.  It has the requisite curated soundtrack to establish this particular invented subcluture, which is up to the minute but with elements from when characters were turned (for instance, Fight Club the movie came out before Laurel was born).  Elmore stages some scenes of Buffy-style vampire action (mostly fights in loft or warehouse spaces) between the indie movie relationships stuff.

The secondary bloodsuckers – Roya (Friday Chamberlain), Frog (Char Diaz) – have to convey vivid characters with only bullet points and memorable looks, but Elmore enjoys filling out the mythology of this take on the vampire myth.  Conspiracy theorist incel vampire hunters are manipulated by a Renfield-type disciple (MC Gainey) who deploys amusing monster-fighting devices like a giant mousetrap.  One of its few dog-eared aspects is a thread of Twilight digs which land a few years too late, but Bit is in a fruitful dialogue with the history of vampire movies even as it uses the myth to explore pecking orders and power struggles in all kinds of alternative communities.  While some recent vampire variants – Bliss, Climate of the Hunter, Bleed With Me – take an interior, psychological, allusive approach, this also remembers to pop the occasional fang and generally have fun while struggling to develop a new strain of vampire ethics.

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